Lufthansa and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have successfully conducted an operating test for the TaxiBot(tm) used with a B747-400 to demonstrate its ability to tow an airplane from gate to runway and back under typical taxiing conditions. The test was conducted at the Frankfurt International Airport.
TaxiBot(tm) is a joint development by IAI's Lahav Division and Airbus of an innovative environmentally-friendly pilot-controlled semi-robotic towing system. The Taxibot(tm) Dispatch Towing system, designed by IAI, allows airplanes to taxi to and from the airport gate to the runway without the need to operate their jet engines.
During the demonstration, following TaxiBot(tm) push-back, all taxiing processes were controlled by the aircraft's pilots from the cockpit, using the normal tiller and braking pedals just as in regular airplane taxiing. The TaxiBot's(tm) special control system controlled the load on the aircraft's Nose Landing Gear (NLG) in real time, maintaining it within a pre-calculated envelope, such that there is an insignificant fatigue effect on the NLG. Despite the severe weather conditions which prevailed during the Frankfurt test, the demonstrator system showed excellent capabilities and successfully maintained the defined envelope.
After the test, Bernd Pfeffer, a Lufthansa B747 pilot said: "The overall impression is very good, and better than I expected. Steering the aircraft using the TaxiBot(tm) with all kinds of turns was absolutely to my liking in addition to the accelerating and braking capabilities that were good. A big advantage of using the TaxiBot(tm) is on icy or slippery surfaces where traction is now better, and safety is increased when turning. I wouldn't change anything at all".
Itzhak Nissan, IAI's CEO said:" The TaxiBot(tm) development is naturally integrated in IAI's policy regarding new business areas such as ground robotics, and renewable energy "
The test, conducted on a Lufthansa commercial B747-400 aircraft, followed a test in Toulouse on an Airbus A340-600 test aircraft, conducted by Airbus and IAI during the second quarter of 2010 that showed promising results.
Yehoshua (Shuki) Eldar, IAI's Corporate VP, Business Development and Subsidiaries, commented: "The successful B747-400 Frankfurt test joins the Toulouse A340 test in showing that IAI's innovative concept can help airliners save large amounts of fuel and help airports around the world reduce their annual fuel costs, noise and CO2 emissions by a significant margin."
With the conclusion of the B747 test, the TaxiBot(tm) demonstrator showed that it can successfully perform dispatch towing missions with both Airbus and Boeing aircraft, which represent the bulk of commercial aircraft in current use.
The Frankfurt test is a further milestone in the TaxiBot(tm) program which was launched in mid-2008 with the contribution of a Lufthansa LEOS Krauss-Maffie TPS-1 which became IAI's base vehicle for the TaxiBot(tm) concept demonstrator.
From the start of the program, Lufthansa LEOS supported the TaxiBot(tm) team consisting of IAI, Airbus, TLD, a French world leader in the manufacture of Ground Support Equipment (GSE) and Ricardo (a British vehicle engineering designer) and it was therefore only natural that the TPS-1 vehicle would return to its home base, with its new design and state-of-the-art technologies, to lead the way in proving the concept of such an innovative program as TaxiBot.
Current work is continuing to develop a TaxiBot(tm) prototype vehicle for Narrow Body airplanes, such as the A320 and B737 families.
Further demonstrator tests on Airbus aircraft are scheduled for the second quarter of 2011, to allow various operational and technical conclusions to be reached regarding prototype development and bring the system design to maturity prior to serial production.
The TaxiBot(tm) prototype is scheduled to get certification for the first airplane during 2012 and deliveries of the first units to customers should begin before the end of that year.
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